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Natural Does Not Equal Right

New year’s resolution time so I’ll discuss Marlene Zuk on our adaptation to diets. Zuk’s book was interesting and entertaining. I do have some issues which I’ll discuss next post. For now, I’ll note she enjoyed herself critiquing evolutionarily inspired diets and made useful criticisms. The headline is natural does not equal right. Just because something is claimed to be natural doesn’t mean we should do it.

Recent Adaptation

Zuk states that we won’t find a single environment that we are perfectly adapted to. She also emphasizes that humans have changed “recently”. For example, she discusses the rise of milk drinking in the last 10,000 years extensively. She agrees that evolution matters and concedes that plentiful high sugar snacks with little exercise aren’t ideal. That said, she is keen to emphasize that there is no single diet that evolution demands. There is no diet our evolution suggests is best for us.

There really is no good reason to slaughter large animals on your deck and devour them whole because you think cavemen may have done something similar. Indeed Zuk could even have written a shorter book and dismissed people who want to return to paleo-diets with three points.

1) Even if we somehow found a single paleo-diet that we are adapted to, there seems little reason to think that “obeying evolution” makes you happy.

2) Our ancestral diet wouldn’t have necessarily guaranteed anyone a long, pain-free retirement cruising the Caribbean.

3) Most crucially, natural does not equal right. We may be adapted for numerous things that you still shouldn’t do. Various creatures have very unpleasant habits, including eating friends and family, that are perfectly natural. That natural equals right is just a bizarre idea.

Natural Does Not Equal Right

Natural Does Not Equal Right For You (Or Anyone Else)

Don’t follow any diet just because it claims to be “natural”. Zuk quotes the U.S. News and World Report definition of a paleo-diet, “..if the cavemen didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either.” (Zuk, 2013, page 116). Most of us could benefit from improving our diet but check with a doctor what will help you. I for one am not giving up (dark) chocolate, peanut butter, or Guinness anytime soon despite the fact that I’m absolutely sure our caveman ancestors didn’t have them. I’m just grateful to be living now when we have the option of enjoying so many wonderful, “unnatural” inventions.

For more on evolutionary thinking see here.

Read: Marlene Zuk (2013) Paleo-Fantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet And How We Live, W.W.Norton

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